New Blog!

The doors are open over at Public Access, so take a few minutes to visit and post your thoughts in the comments section!

A change is gonna come.

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, I haven’t done too great a job updating this site in the past couple of months. Since I started the blog, I’ve always gone back and forth on what I wanted its focus to be, and then about a year ago I tried picking a few shows I really liked and reviewing them from week to week. While this worked out for a while, I eventually found that even my favorite shows didn’t always lend themselves to weekly reviews. And after work and other things caused me to fall behind, the reviews I needed to write in order to catch up began to feel like too much of a chore, and that’s no good for anyone. That, and the fact that this blog has become so cluttered over the past few years, well, let’s just say that it wasn’t doing my OCD with keeping things clean any favors.

So, what’s the point of this incredibly self-serving rant? I’m sad to say that Working Title has seen its last post. I’ll still keep it up, for anyone who cares to go back and troll through archives, there just won’t be any new content added. In a couple of weeks, I’ll begin posting at Public Access, a blog that will be limited to only television reviews and commentary, with more focus on the commentary. I’m excited about this because it’ll let me review episodes of shows I particularly liked, as well as talk about shows I normally wouldn’t review. And like I said, it’ll be strictly television. All my book and movie reviews will eventually be moved to another blog, so I guess Working Title may see another few posts yet.

For a crappy, fly by night blog, I’ve always gotten a good number of hits, so thank you to those who have visited. And if you liked what you’ve read in the past, I’ll hope you’ll update your bookmarks and move to this new blog with me. I think I can say without hyperbole that it’ll be the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.

Lights Out: How Many Boxing Metaphors Can I Cram Into This Review?

You can’t go so far as to say that Patrick “Lights” Leary is washed-up. He bowed out of the sport after losing the heavyweight title, and has spent the five years since then doing interviews, running a failing gym, and letting his brother shuffle around all the money he made so that it doesn’t look like he’s hurting as much as he is. Leary isn’t begging for interviews (although he’s not above hosting the odd bingo tournament here and there) or appearing on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ He’s not a drunk. He loves his wife and his three daughters and does his best to do right with them. So early in the pilot episode I wondered if maybe the show wasn’t as complex as I was hoping for. Leary’s hurting for money — he’s got the IRS on his back — so there are definitely things he’s hiding from his family, but all things considered, he seems to float pretty close to the surface.

It turns out I was wrong, and what I mistook for being shallow was more akin to a snake, coiled and ready to strike. Leary doesn’t like doing bad things, but his desire to provide for his family overrides all that, and the pilot gives us a small, yet very satisfying, glimpse of that.

I guess I’d be wrong in saying that the desire to be a good husband and father is the only driving force behind Leary. The fight that lost him the heavyweight title five years before was controversial, and the fighter to whom he lost is on TV, asking for a rematch. He left the sport mainly due to his wife, who after the fight told him that if he couldn’t leave the boxing world behind, their marriage was over. Since then, Leary’s had something to prove, although who he has to prove it to is a question Leary himself may not have the answer to.

You may recognize Leary, actor Holt McCallany, as that guy from Fight Club. He also did a stint on ‘CSI’ and a few other shows, but yeah, he’s that guy from Fight Club. And he really brings a sort of childlike fascination to the people and events happening around him. I guess being famous for beating the hell out of people will do that to a person. The ensemble the show surrounds him with does a pretty good job, too. What I like most about Leary’s family is that none of them are boozers, hooked on drugs, or out until all hours of the night fornicating. Well, his oldest daughter is out until all hours of the night. The fornicating thing, we’ll just have to wait and see. All of that could come out in later episodes, it just hasn’t in what I’ve seen so far.

FX hasn’t been doing much in the way of bad TV lately, and judging from its first episode, ‘Lights Out’ looks to be another notch in their belt. Unlike the ill-fated ‘Terriers,’ the show’s commercials are pretty clear on what the show is, so here’s hoping it’ll have that much more staying power. Still, you have to ask what the sell-by date for a show like this is. From what I’ve seen so far, the first season deals with Leary’s comeback into the boxing world. So, he either makes it or he doesn’t… and then what? I definitely don’t see Leary as a saint, but I also don’t see him sinking as deep as Walter White. But wherever the show goes, I can’t wait to see it. Showrunner Warren Leight’s already done such a great job right out of the gate that I’m more than willing to see where he takes us. I guess you could say, ‘Lights Out’ delivers a knock out punch!**

**One. One boxing metaphor.

The Year End Review: Movies

Let me start off by saying that, if you don’t read this, I won’t hold it against you. I know this list is almost too small to even justifying being written, but I’ve been doing it for a few years now, and as the musical says, “Traaadiiitiooooon!!” I’ll say that I really enjoyed all three of these films and thought they were a cut above the standard A-Team crap we have thrown at us all year long. But still, this list feels a little like it looks the way it does more because of the movies I didn’t see this year rather than the ones I did see. Anyway, keep reading, if you dare!

Inception. It’s nice to see Hollywood taking a chance on an expensive sci-fi flick that actually makes you think, although they probably wouldn’t be if someone like Christopher Nolan weren’t in charge of the whole thing. This one also scores points because it managed to keep Leonardo DiCaprio out of a falling tank, shooting planes out of the sky. It was also one of Ellen Page’s first films that didn’t make me want to hit her. But seriously, folks, although the first half was a little exposition heavy, it was a great story that did a better job of incorporating its action scenes into it than most films. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Tom Hardy.

The Social Network. Everything Aaron Sorkin writes takes place in a sort of heightened reality where people have mountains of raw data and statistics at their fingertips, and almost everything they say is quotable. And if his cocaine habit is the price we have to pay for that, then I’m more than willing to make the sacrifice. I think we all understand that his version of Facebook’s creation was embellished just a little bit, but who cares? We expect that sort of thing, right? Major props to Jesse Eisenberg for snapping out of his Michael Cera funk, and Andrew Garfield, who just might make a proper Spiderman yet.

True Grit. I reviewed this one just a few days ago, so I’m not sure what else I could really add here. I’ll just say that nobody does it like Jeff Bridges. And nobody really does it like Jeff Bridges wearing an eye patch. And why haven’t we seen Matt Damon in more westerns?

I admit that this is a pretty generic list. But it does represent the best of what I saw this year. I don’t get to watch as many movies as I’d like, so some, like The Fighter, Winter’s Bone and Toy Story 3 passed me by. I’d apologize, but none of you are here to read my movie reviews. You check back every week in the vain hope that I’ll start LOSTWATCH!! back up. Well, who knows what 2011 will bring. More movies, definitely. More LOSTWATCH? Definitely maybe.

The Year End Review: TV

It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…

Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.

Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.

Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.

Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!

Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.

Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.

Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?

30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.

Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.

And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!

**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.

“I can do nothing for you, son.”

I feel like the Coen Brothers making great movies is one of the few constants in my life. That, along with death (although I’m not throwing in the towel on that one), taxes, and vacation constipation. Sure, every now and then they throw a Burn After Reading at us. But they make up for it with a Big Lebowski, a Fargo, and a No Country for Old Men. Yes, what a time to be alive.

And before you ask, you can go ahead and add True Grit to the pantheon of Coen favorites. As the last film I’ll see at the movies in 2010, it more than made up for the bitter disappointments the year opened with, with films like Daybreakers and Legion kicking me in the balls and leaving me curled in the fetal position.

The film — the second adaptation of the 1968 Charles Portis novel — is narrated by Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl whose father was murdered at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney. After some questioning around town, Mattie seeks out Rooster Cogburn, whom she believes possesses the titular true grit to track Chaney down and bring him to justice. Accompanying them on their trek is Texas Ranger La Boeuf, who’s after Chaney for separate crimes. Together, the three learns lessons about each other, life and each other.

Those of you going into the theater expecting another No Country may be a little disappointed, as True Grit is a much more straight up western than that previous film, but at the same time it’s no less good. It’s superbly acted all around, which should come as no surprise. Tron notwithstanding, since when does Jeff Bridges not bring a healthy dose of badassery to the roles he plays? Matt Damon was a big surprise here. His portrayal of La Boeuf seemed to be one part Jason Bourne, two parts Mark Whitacre and Linus Caldwell. What was so great about it was that it was funny without trying to be funny. And oh, how wrong things could have gone there. I mean, how tired are we of the snarky sidekick who’s only snarky to be snarky?

But the real showstopper here is Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Mattie Ross. She’s come out of obscurity and proven in just two short hours how capable she is of rolling with the big dogs. Now, if you’re asking who Hailee Steinfeld is, I don’t imagine you’re much different from the rest of the world, and that’s including her parents. But fear not, because you’re probably going to be hearing her name much more in the future.

True Grit is definitely one of those the-journey-is-more-important-than-the-destination films. The relationship between Mattie, Cogburn and La Beouf and how it develops is what keeps you glued to the screen. The actual resolution to their journey, the reason they’ve all banded together in the first place is over so quickly you daren’t (DAREN’T!) blink for fear of missing it. And once it’s all over, the film peters out a bit, with its coda feeling more like a, “Well, we sure had some fun, eh?” than anything that really adds to the story. I’ve never read the book, so I couldn’t say how faithful this is to that, although I’ve heard that the film as a whole toes the line pretty close.

I really liked this one. The chemistry (as we say in the hard sciences) between the leads is more than enough to make up for whatever small shortcomings the story has. And at two hours, the whole thing goes by pretty fast. As westerns go, this is probably one of the purest we’re going to see in a while, which is a credit to the Coen Brothers and the tone they’re able to set in their films. Tickets cost about, what? $30 apiece now? Go out and spend it. It’s completely worth it.

“Watch the way she moves.”

For all of its weirdness, I really liked the The Fountain. And even though I’m still trying to wash off the ick after seeing Requiem for a Dream, I recognize it as a piece of art. Both of those films are really over the top in their own ways, so when I settled in to Black Swan, I have to say I was expecting something similar.

For those of you not in the know, the film follows Natalie Portman, a dancer in a NYC ballet company, who’s trying to get the lead role in an upcoming production of Swan Lake. Her director, played by Vincent Cassel (also known as the Night Fox), thinks she’d make a great White Swan, but is worried she lacks the raw sensuality and abandon to play the titular Black Swan. Portman, much like an actual ballet dancer, is slowly going bats**t crazy preparing for the role, with her transformation having surprising and unexpected results.

Darren Aronofsky is a man who knows his business, so I won’t say that after several years he’s learned to reign in and refine his style. Still, I found Black Swan to be somewhat understated, but only in comparison to his other films. Even when Portman is in the depths of her insanity, we’re only given a taste of her madness before the film pulls away and snaps us back to reality.

Still, Aronofsky returns with many of his usual tricks. Throughout the film, we’re given several closeup shots of dancers cracking knuckles, stretching, warming up. These are all accompanied by ├╝ber loud and bassy sound effects, and really show how the body can be used as a tool, a piece of hardware.

While there are a lot of faces on the screen, the story is told principally through Portman, Kunis and Cassel. And even then, Kunis and Cassel only serve in auxiliary roles, one pushing while the other pulls Portman into a transcendent level of commitment to the role she’s trying for. After her time on ‘That 70s Show’ and ‘Family Guy,’ Kunis will probably be forever written off. I wouldn’t go that far. She can act, but for the most part this film doesn’t really give her anywhere to go. She’s a party girl, trying to get Portman to loosen up and live a little, which she does in one scene that’s guaranteed to have indignant girlfriends/wives walking out of theaters all over the country. And for those of you wondering about that, Aronofsky uses a few clever camera angles so that there’s never any actual nudity in the film. The film could probably have done without it, but it serves its purpose and isn’t dwelled upon. So…*cough.* What was I saying?

The entire film is psychologically tense, and that’s due entirely to Portman’s performance. You feel like you’re stretched taught throughout the entire thing, and never really let go of until the credits start to roll. Her character is so nervous and timid, and never quite figures out how to react to what’s happening to her.

Black Swan wasn’t the blowout I was expecting walking into the theater, but it may be the most solid film I’ve seen all year, and probably Natalie Portman’s best. She’s definitely done her part to make up for those horrible Star Wars prequels. So that’s good. I have a feeling this is the one that’ll go up against The Social Network at the Oscars next year, but will be handily beaten when James Cameron brings Avatar back, because there’s no stopping that bastard.